When we get a bottle of something to review, we beat the crap out of it. We taste it usually a dozen different ways and write long, involved articles about it. For those searching the web for advice and are able to find their way through the whole article, we hope to shed light on some of its best uses.
We also get smaller 50ml to 100ml samples from time to time. That's not enough to do huge, involved tastings but... what the heck? We can at least pour it in a glass and try it! So welcome to our first Lightning Round: a fast assessment of everything small we received in a given month.
Assertion: Inox is not to be sipped but you're probably not buying it to sip anyway. This would serve quite competently in cooler style cocktails, like the venerable and famous Caipirinha. Price might be a bit stiff.
Best use: most definitely the Caipirinhia cocktail.
Marketplace Differentiator: a lighter style then the heavier cachacas out there; great introduction.
Danger: you may find the price a little high unless you're making specifically Brazilian cocktails.
First up is Inox Original Cachaca. If you haven't heard of cachaca, get ready. Because this sugar cane spirit serves as the foundation for the Brazilian Caipirinha cocktail and when the Olympics hits Brazil in a couple of summers, it will be absolutely everywhere.
Inox is a modern take on the spirit, which begins life in a traditional pot still but ends up in a state-of-the-art fractional distillation method more often associated with vodka. Going into it, we expect a sweeter smelling spirit with deeply herbal, grassy, greenish flavor notes that can be a little tough on their own but add resonance to cocktails.
Going into it on the nose, we get characteristic earthy, mustiness of cut wet grass but it's softer and less overpowering than other cachcas we've tried. Maybe a little sweet tart on the nose.
Tasting it, there's a lot of needle on the tongue, which is a little tough because it overpower the flavors and finishes a little rough. Only 80 proof? Yep. Feels a lot hotter on the palate.
A little ice pulls out more aroma, which is nice and grows on you. The dilution calms it down a lot but doesn't make it more tasty. The flavors are muted. We're ready to call this "for cocktails only." Lacking fresh limes, we made up a bullshit cocktail by putting in some limoncello (homemade!) and water. The beautiful limoncello aromas are now colored by that wet grass... the taste is pretty good.
Assertion: Big Gin is generally recommended as a dry gin for very dry martinis. But it's the Barrel Aged Big Gin that earned our true love as something you can drop an ice cube in and sip as a true whiskey alternative. This avant garde style of gin is right up Seattle's alley... if you're pretentious enough for a premium, exotic coffee in the morning than you're pretentious enough for rocks glass with aged Seattle gin at night.
Best use: the regular gin in the driest of dry Martinis while the aged in a glass with exactly one ice cube... it could easily convert a committed whiskey snob.
Marketplace Differentiator: the barrel-aged version, certainly. The regular gin is decent but will be hard to stand out.
Danger: don't overuse vermouth or other mixers; it can damage this gin!
Washington State-and Seattle in particular-has become a hotbed of craft distilling and the Pac Northwest is very proud of their spirits. Captive Spirits is Seattle-based and came out with a classic London dry style. We're told to expect juniper and burnt orange. Let's see...
On the nose, classic juniper and a little orange and anise. Gorgeous gin aroma that will appeal to all gin idolaters. Tasting neat at full 94 proof, it's well executed with heavy juniper notes but the finish is next to non-existent. It's there and gone like young love.
The true test is the Martini! We made a quick one up and it's decent. It's very, very easy to use too much vermouth. This is qualified as a dry martini serving only... just a hint of vermouth to give a lingering finish to the shorter gin.
And the Barrel Aged? It gives a light color the gin, of course. The aroma is markedly different with big vanilla notes that settles the juniper. Very different. A little reminiscent of Christmas cookies. For whiskey drinkers, this is the distant siren call of goodness. Drinking, the wood somehow mellowed the gin and gave a peppery edge to the finish with a blast of orange. We're really liking this trend of aging gin. A little ice enhances everything. The merest whisper of dry vermouth can give a hint of elan; a little Grand Marnier brought out the orange (but the sweet didn't help). In the end, this is something we'd recommend sipping.
Assertion: this whisky will disappoint the hard core. But those who like softer whisky; those who are first getting into whisky; those who are looking for whisky to drink while fishing with a buddy that can be tossed back... in these areas, the CR serves very well. It's quite superior to the regular Crown Royal and quite a bit better than the XR.
Best use: a prestige gift for those who like lighter whisky and Crown Royal in particular.
Marketplace Differentiator: smooth and approachable; a prestige whisky that doesn't require a trained palate to enjoy.
Danger: the price is high at $75 (one for each year of the brand's existence)... don't expect more out of it than it's prepared to give.
Crown Royal released the monarch as a celebration of their 75th anniversary. Crown Royal is, of course, the standby Canadian whisky known for smooth rather than robust and neutral rather than flavorful. And, we admit it, we're snobs. $75 for an 80 proof whisky? From Canada?! Let's see...
The nose is soft and sweet... a candied note in front of the oak. Almost smells like an aged rum in some ways. The Crown Royal smoothness is all there... it tastes pillow-like going down. If that's the goal, success! For people more used to single barrel bourbons or cask strength scotches, it might feel a little light. Still, it has a finish... it's subtle but it is also there long and lingering. It's scary putting ice into something this light but we did anyway (for science!). Amazingly, it softened everything up and didn't harm the finish. Despite our fears, an ice cube or two is recommended for this whisky. It's very easy to drink and finish.
by: Neal MacDonald, editor
[Disclosures: we were provided tasting samples of the Inox Cachaca, Big Gin, Big Gin Barrel Aged, and Crown Royal Monarch... all other items mentioned were acquired on our own.]